Brexit: Tory MP defects ahead of crucial no deal vote
Conservative MP Phillip Lee has defected to the Liberal Democrats ahead of a showdown between Boris Johnson and Tory rebels over Brexit.
Dr Lee, the MP for Bracknell, took his seat on the opposition benches as the PM addressed the Commons.
His defection means that Boris Johnson no longer has a working majority in the Commons.
He said the government was “pursuing a damaging Brexit in unprincipled ways”, putting lives and livelihoods at risk.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Johnson told MPs he wanted a negotiated exit from the EU and insisted there was “real momentum” behind the talks.
But he said plans by rebel Tory MPs to pass legislation effectively blocking a no-deal exit on 31 October would “destroy any chance of negotiating a new deal”.
If the rebels succeeded in their aims, he said it would force him to go to Brussels to “beg for another pointless delay” to Brexit and he would “never” do that.
“It is Jeremy Corbyn’s surrender bill. It means running up the white flag,” he added.
Before Dr Lee’s defection, Mr Johnson only had a working majority of one in the Commons.
In a letter to the prime minister, Mr Lee said Brexit divisions had “sadly transformed this once great party into something more akin to a narrow faction in which one’s Conservatism is measured by how recklessly one wants to leave the European Union”.
“Perhaps more disappointingly, it has become infected by the twin diseases of English nationalism and populism.”
He said the Lib Dems – who back another referendum on Brexit and want the UK to remain in the EU – were best placed to “heal the divisions” and “overcome the challenges we face as a society.”
‘Not at war’
Dr Lee’s decision to cross the floor was greeted with cheers on the opposition benches.
Amid angry exchanges during the PM’s statement on last month’s G7 summit, Jeremy Corbyn urged the prime minister to “reflect on his choice of language” to describe the rebels’ bill.
The Labour leader said the UK was “not at war with Europe” and it was a no-deal exit which would see the UK “surrender” jobs, employment standards and social protections.
“His is a not government with no mandate, no morals and, as of today, no majority,” he added.